Unconventional Thoughts | Jan 2021

How Your Sales Force May Change, Post Pandemic

By: Tom van Betten | vice president of strategic partnerships

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Tom van Betten joined Matter Real Estate Group to pursue his passion for commercial real estate after 20 years of leading his own brokerage practice. As Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, Tom brings partners, brokers and tenants together, relying on decades of multi-faceted experience to cover every corner of the business. Through every transaction, Tom creates strategies that benefit everyone involved. A former top-performing broker, he has honed his skills guiding some of North America’s leading companies into new facilities.

Ever since the character Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross famously exclaimed, “Put the coffee down, coffee is for closers,” I have been intrigued by the intensity of the “sales floor.” As I entered the commercial real estate business right out of college, I was given a phone and a list of names to try and schedule meetings. I remember fumbling over my cold calls, trying to stay focused in a noisy room with paper notes everywhere.

Office environments have evolved over the years, but COVID-19 will change the approach to sales forever. The pandemic will have widespread implications on your sales force, these are the ways I see it impacting on both the process and the office spaces that sales forces utilize.

Selling During COVID-19

When COVID-19 hit, many sales programs had to quickly implement or even develop a crisis strategy. Of course, the firms that had robust digital infrastructure were steps ahead, and the real winners were the ones that could show clients a path to profitability (yes, profitability), not just cost savings. An example would be cross-leveraging a digital branding opportunity at a low cost for a client because the sales team connected the dots. Creativity has never been as important as a tool in your sales chest as it is now.

Traditional tactics such as events, trade shows and expos are not available now, and likely will not be for the foreseeable future. Even taking a client out for a good steak is not as easy or safe right now, as different clients have varied levels of comfort about meeting in person. How can salespeople connect with their client or prospect in any kind of meaningful way? We have found that the move from in person to digital not only can work, but can be the rare opportunity for a “one-to-many” presentation. Webinars and other online presentations can be efficient and interesting; however, this cannot be an infomercial or nobody will show up. This is thought leadership. This is not regurgitating the same information you’ve heard or presented again and again. This is putting some effort into aggregating some people or content that can be of value to a customer, even if no direct sale is made. This is relationship building in a bubble. Add value now and you will be remembered.

Selling After COVID-19

Technology! I know this is the de facto answer to everything, but COVID-19 has magnified its importance. While waiting for vaccinations to happen across the world, this is the perfect time to revamp your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and get 100% buy-in from peers and leadership before everybody is too busy again. Now is the time to stop relying on outdated legacy technology and move into the future with confidence.

That same technology should help you sell online in an attractive and efficient manner. Efficiency is going to be a key factor of success going forward, as we all realized working from home. A sales team can’t burn up minutes and hours chasing people and documents around. I was recently contacted by three salespeople from the same national data provider. I was thinking how frustrating it must be to not even share a database in today’s world! Have the difficult “territory” conversation now and set up equitable battle stations for salespeople to fairly focus on clients and beat the competition.

It’s time to give the desktop computer to Goodwill and gear up the team with a laptop and quality webcam. This will allow mobilized sales forces to meet online and collaborate when not in the office.

Business travel will come back. There is no substitution for a face-to-face meeting to build trust and complete a business transaction. However, the travel costs will require that trip to be the “silver bullet” or the one chance to win or save the business. How can that one trip in the future be that much more fruitful? Better presentations, images, flowcharts, metrics, case studies, etc.  What else can you do while you are there? Use this time now to prepare for Fall 2021, when all signs are that sales will be “game on!”

Offices will also come back. As we anticipated, our study from earlier this year showed that people miss going to the office. Several more recent surveys show over 70% of people want to return to the office at some level. People miss collaboration and human interaction. Experts believe that many offices may choose to change the days of a week required to be in the offices, but there will not be any change in the space needed for offices. The dedensification to create physical distancing will be offset by a more mobile workforce. Sales teams will need creative ways to communicate with their prospects, as sales call “drop ins” may not be available and, even if you are allowed in, you may miss the key contact.

Successful sales forces have always been on the cutting edge of trends – be it technology, psychology and more – and this year will be no different. We have the opportunity to redefine what sales and sales roles look like and should be excited about what’s ahead in the next 6-9 months.

Tom van Betten is vice president of strategic relationships at Matter Real Estate Group, the developer behind www.uncommons.com.